Perry is the main character in the story. He went to the war to help pay for his brother Kenny's college tuition. During the war, Perry faces a personal conflict of discovering who he is and why he is in the war. He knows he is good at writing, but he doesn't know what to do with his life after the war. In addition, the war itself is a conflict for him. It threatens both his life and sanity as he watches his fellow soldiers die around him. The only thing that Perry can do to get past this conflict is to pray, and hope that his prayers are answered.
Simpson is one of the leaders of Perry's platoon. He has a conflict between his duty to his country and the preservation of himself and his platoon. Simpson has a chance to leave Vietnam, but he is pressured into extending his stay for a month. He wants to make sure he lives but he also gains a bond of brotherhood with his men so he does not want to leave them behind. Simpson struggles with the conflict created by his loyalty to, and understanding of, his men and his Sergeant's persistent ambition that threatens their safety.
Peewee immediately connects with Perry and soon becomes his best friend. He is an upbeat individual, and he keeps the platoon going with his wisecracks. He is also wise enough to realize that the platoon members need to react to survive. They cannot question the motives of the conflict nor the humanity of the situation. But after his girlfriend at home marries another man, Peewee begins to struggle with staying positive. He is also traumatized by an incident resulting in the death of a young Vietnamese child, further complicating this conflict. By the end of the novel, Peewee and Perry are inseparable, and they use their friendship to endure their conflicts and try to survive the war.
Johnson quickly becomes an unofficial leader in Perry's platoon. The men start listening to Johnson even over their own leader, Captain Stewart. Johnson is one of the toughest of the group and he is one that Perry and the others look up to. Johnson is a fighter who is willing to die fighting for his country and his platoon.
Captain Stewart is in charge of Perry's entire division. Stewart is solely focused on getting his promotion in the army. To accomplish this task, he has to get his men to kill an extraordinary number of Cong. He constantly places Perry's platoon at risk to get more kills at any cost. Will it ever be enough? Will Perry's platoon survive Stewart's ambition?
Lobel is one of Perry's friends in the platoon. He is a movie fanatic who deals with the grim situations at hand by fantasizing that movie life is reality. This is Lobel's escape until he is forced to confront reality one day when he has to choose between his own survival and the life of a Cong. He struggles after facing the an individual person's death forcing Lobel to recognize that the harsh situations are, indeed, reality.
Monaco is one of the strongest members of the platoon who is consistently selected to be in front during the platoon's scouting expeditions. Monaco is quick to pick up on the tricks that the Cong use to evade the American troops. He experiences certain death first-hand, forcing him to come to terms with his beliefs.
Universal for all Characters
The conflicts for the above characters are universal for all characters in the novel. Everyone is trying to discover their place in life, and avoid being consumed by the war. All were changed by this experience. Some were able to refocus their mindset while at war but had to learn how to return to a world of vastly different realities. Unfortunately, many characters in the novel did lose their lives in Vietnam, and were not able to fulfill any of their life goals.